12 Devotional Days of Yule
This year I have seen many people inquiring about holiday traditions they can practice during the 12 days of Yule (a question which I have asked as well). In response to that question, the following is a 12-day celebration I created for my own family that modern Heathens can celebrate during the Yule season. While I have drawn in part from traditional European customs, this is in no way a reconstructionist effort and is mostly a fun way to honor the gods and wights during the holiest time on the Heathen calendar.
At the beginning of each day, I have included a prayer to the deities to be honored. I would recommend either finding one candle to represent the Yule season or a candle holder that can hold 12 candles (one for each day of Yule), and light the candle/s before making your prayer. These prayers are guidelines and can be expanded or replaced as you see fit.
I hope you enjoy the next 12 days. Happy Yule!
Dec 20th – Mother’s Night: Frigg, her Handmaidens, and the Dísir
Mother’s Night was an Anglo Saxon tradition which was described briefly by the English Medieval historian Bede, taking place on Christmas Eve. Many modern heathens celebrate Mother’s Night on the night before Yule as a celebration of the Dísir and female powers. The Dísir have been interpreted as the female ancestors of one’s line, supernatural female powers that embody the powers of motherhood, or protective feminine spirits. On this night, celebrate your female ancestors, as well as Frigg (goddess of motherhood) and her handmaidens.
Hail to Frigg, queen of Ásgarðr, great mother of the Æsir. Spinner of the clouds, great seer, fierce guardian of home and hearth, please bless my home this Yule, that it may be filled with love, frith, and warmth.
Hail to Frigg’s handmaidens, ladies of great power, may you grant me your favor in the coming year.
Hail Eir, Frigg’s own physician, may you bless my home with health and the means to heal
Hail Sága, wise historian, may I remember to honor those who came before me
Hail Fulla, guardian of Frigg’s wealth, may you bless my home with abundance
Hail Gná, faithful messenger, may you bless my home with clear communication
Hail Lofn, lady of forbidden love, may you bless my home with compassion
Hail Syn, guardian of the door, may you protect my home from enemies seen and unseen
Hail Vár, witness of oaths, may you remind my household of its obligations
Hail Snotra, courteous lady, may my home always have the means to extend hospitality to those in need
Hail Gefjon, granter of gifts, may I receive the gifts in life I most need, and grant them as well
Hail Sjöfn, affectionate goddess, may my home and heart be filled with love
Hail Hlín, granter of help, may my home be a place of refuge for myself and my loved ones
Hail Vör, wise seeress, may I be observant of the omens in my life and choose the right roads
Hail to the Dísir, mighty mothers and guardians of my line. You are the gateways through which all life springs. You are the nurturers, the defenders, the guardians of life itself. For my gift of life I give you gratitude. May I live a life that honors your gifts and your sacrifices.
Tonight, make food that your female ancestors made or enjoyed. If you don’t have any family recipes, you can choose to make food from countries you know your ancestors came from. If you don’t already have a space in your home set aside for the ancestors or the gods, set up a space for them tonight to act as an altar. Add images of goddesses, deceased women in your line, or any other symbols that embody feminine power and motherhood. Don’t forget to share your feast with the goddesses and ancestors, and lay out a plate of food for them before you indulge. As you offer the food, thank the feminine powers in your life for all of the things they have given you. Tell them that you are offering sustenance in gratitude for all of the times the women in your life (be they physical or spiritual) sustained you.
At the end of your feast, write the names of of the 12 handmaidens on 12 different pieces of paper. Have each person present randomly draw one. The mysteries of that handmaiden are what you should mediate on and attempt to practice in the coming year. Here are examples of things you may want to focus on in the coming year depending on which handmaiden speaks up:
1. Eir: Healing, self-healing (physical, mental, and spiritual), herbalism, caring for the health of others.
2. Sága: History, storytelling, writing, study, studying one’s ancestry and work with the ancestors.
3. Fulla: Wealth, abundance, caring for one’s resources, defending the resources of others
4. Gná: Practicing good communication, listening for messages, being a messenger for spiritual forces
5. Lofn: Practicing tolerance and compassion, aiding misunderstood groups or people, experiencing love in unconventional ways
6. Syn: Protection, protection of self or others, spiritual and physical warding, practicing caution
7. Vár: Oaths and promises, doing your best to honor your oaths, don’t make any promises lightly
8. Snotra: Practice being a gracious host, hospitality, good etiquette, diplomacy
9. Gefjon: Practice giving and receiving, generosity, gratitude, acceptance
10. Sjöfn: Love, affection, appreciation for your partner, romance, opening oneself up for love
11. Hlín: Refuge, standing up for others, being a safe shoulder to lean on, knowing when to ask for help
12. Vör: Foresight, pay attention to omens, practice divination, learn to trust your instincts
Dec 21st – Sunna and Máni
The winter solstice generally falls on or near the 21st of December. Today you will be celebrating both the longest night of the year and the return of the sun and the lengthening of the days ahead.
Prayer (to be spoken before the sunrise):
Hail to Sunna, charioteer of the sun, triumphant bringer of light, golden goddess. The frozen earth sleeps and dreams of the return of your warm embrace. As you grow in strength and your light is reborn into the world may you also
bring light into the life of myself and my loved ones.
Hail to Máni, brother of Sunna who fills the night with your gentle glow. You are the friend of dreamers, artists, and mystics; You are the silver lantern that guides the way of men and spirits on this darkest night. May you fill my heart with hope and wonder on the holiest of tides.
Wake up just before the rising of the sun, and greet Sunna as she makes her ascent. You may either light her a candle or light her a fire outside in a fire-pit to offer her strength and aid her ascent. Make offerings to her and thank her for the gift of her fire, without which nothing on earth could live. Appropriate offerings for Sunna may include cider, mead, Goldschlager, apple juice, oranges, or flowers.
At some point during the rest of the day, find a piece of wood to serve as your Yule log. You can decorate it with flowers, pine, auspicious herbs, carvings of sun wheels, etc (bear in mind you will be burning this log, so don’t add anything to it that could be toxic or make an unpleasant smell). Aside from decorating your Yule log, you can also make a dessert Yule log to enjoy in the evening. Don’t forget to share a piece with Máni, who is keeping his longest vigil of the year tonight. Here is a recipe for making your own Yule Log.
Wait until after dinner, and then light your real Yule log in your fireplace. The Yule log is intended to add strength to Sunna’s fire and hasten her return. As an added bit of magic, you can write down something you would like to see strengthened in the new year. Add this paper to a mix of aromatic herbs with properties of luck and abundance (such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice). Burn your paper and the herbs in the Yule fire while praying for Sunna’s blessing. Save the ashes from your Yule Log, as you will be using them on 12th Night.
Dec 22nd – Freyr and the Álfar
Tonight you will be honoring Freyr and the Álfar. It is said that Freyr received Álfheimr as a gift for when he cut his first tooth. The Álfar (like the Dísir) are a somewhat mysterious class of mythological being. There are modern Heathens who associate them with their male ancestors (just as the Dísir are associated with female ancestors), while others may see them as powerful nature spirits (the lines between land spirits and spirits of the dead who were buried in the ground could often be blurry). Regardless, the Álfar (elves) have maintained an association with the Yule season from pre-Christian times to the present, and many supernatural beings were thought to roam the earth during this time of year. If you wish to honor your male ancestors tonight, bring out their pictures and make them an altar just as you did on Mother’s Night.
Hail to Ingvi Freyr, Lord of Álfheimr. Upon the bristles of your sacred boar, all Yule oaths were sworn. May you bless our house with your abundance and your passion, so that we may achieve all of our goals in the coming year with dignity and honor.
Hail to the Álfar, mighty dwellers of the mounds. Hail to the hidden folk who often wander into the realms of men. May we have the blessings of your favor and live alongside you in friendship. We welcome you to our Yule feast and offer you our hospitality.
Cook a pork dinner tonight in Freyr’s honor. In the old days, oaths would have been sworn upon Freyr’s boar (the origin of our new year’s resolutions). Before eating, make sure to take an offering of food and beer outside for Freyr and the Álfar first. While you are eating, contemplate what you would like to accomplish in the new year, and review the things you accomplished over the past year. This is a good time to toast the victories of those present, and to share those things you want to accomplish so that you can help support one another in the days to come.
Dec 23rd – Loki and Sigyn
December 23rd was the last day of Saturnalia in the Roman Calendar. This was a time when social rules were turned upside down, gifts were exchanged, and disguises were worn. Today, honor Loki as the Lord of Misrule, and his loyal wife Sigyn.
Hail Loki, lord of misrule, trickster, shape-shifter, you who turn the world upside down. May you bless me this Yule with your gifts of laughter and adaptability, knowing that I invite you as a friend to my feast.
Hail Sigyn, loyal wife of Loki, lady of victory. May you balance Loki’s unpredictability in my life with your constancy. May you grant me the strength to face any unexpected turn in the coming year with your hopefulness and tenacity.
Animal guising seems to have been a part of European Yule traditions. According to Constantine Porphyrogenitus in his book De cerimonii aulae Byzantiae, the Goths of his Varangian Guard performed a dance for him on the 9th day of Christmas, where two of the Goth’s dressed in masks and animal skins shouting Toúl, Toúl! (possibly related to the word jól/yule?). During the day, make an animal mask that represents an attribute you would like to have more of in the coming year. Here are some examples of animals that were significant to the European ancestors:
– Bear: Some associate bear with Thor, strength, power, might, connection to the earth
– Wolf: Sacred to Odin and Loki, family, fierceness, loyalty, working together
– Fox: Sacred to Loki (according to many modern worshippers), cunning, trickster, problem-solving
– Mink: Playfulness, adaptability, quick thinking
– Seal: Mysteries of the waters, joy, feminine magic and shapeshifting (selkies)
– Boar: Sacred to Freyja and Freyr, war, power, wealth
– Horse: Cooperation, travel, adventure, support
– Rabbit: Caution, fertility, swiftness, abundance
– Cat: Sacred to Freyja, independence, silence, beauty, ferocity
– Snake/Dragon: Secret knowledge, underworld mysteries, transformation
– Deer: Freyr as sacrificial king, authority, defense, self-sacrifice
– Raven: Odin’s messengers, magic, communication, devours the dead and unneeded
– Falcon: Sacred to Freyja and Frigg, spiritual messenger, travel, perception
– Goat: Sacred to Thor, hearty, persistent, ambitious, lusty
In the evening, have a party or feast while wearing your animal masks. The sillier, the better. You could even elect a Lord of Misrule to represent Loki and officiate the event.
Dec 24th – Óðinn and Frau Holda
Óðinn was a god intimately connected to the Yule season, and one of his bynames is Jólnir (“the Yule-being”). It is possible that Santa Claus’s nocturnal visits were partially inspired by earlier stories of Óðinn’s journeys to earth during Yule as the leader of the wild hunt. In certain parts of Germany, Frau Holda was also regarded as the leader of the hunt, as well as being a goddess who ruled over the productivity of the household, winter, spinning, and magic.
Hail Odin, Yule Father, wish granter, lord of mystery and magic. May the fury of the wild host pass over me this Yule, leaving joyful gifts in your wake.
Hail Frau Holda, lady of the hunt, lady of the snow which is the feathers from your pillow. May you bless my home with warmth and productivity, so that I will be found worthy in your eyes.
Earlier in the day, make “wish ornaments” for your Yule tree in honor of Oski (Odin’s aspect as the granter of wishes). Create an ornament that embodies a wish you would like to see come true in the next year. Ask for Oski’s blessing upon your wish in exchange for the offerings you will be leaving out for him tonight. Any household activities such as cooking, cleaning, spinning, etc should be done in Frau Holda’s honor today to the best of your ability. It was said that Frau Holda would punish the lazy and reward the productive.
In different parts of Northern and Western Europe, it was either Óðinn or Frau Holda who were believed to be the leader of the Wild Hunt: a ghostly procession of spirits who would ride wildly through the night and snatch up any unlucky traveler who crossed their path. Tonight, you will leave out offerings for both (the Heathen equivalent of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa). Leave offerings outside overnight, including something for Odin and Frau Holda (such as beer, mead, mulled wine, cakes, meat, etc), and something for their horses (carrots, apples, sugar cubes, etc).
Dec 25th – Balder and Nanna
Today Balder, Óðinn’s dying and resurrecting son, and his wife Nanna can be honored. Some modern Heathens identify Balder as a solar figure, who like the rising and setting sun also descends into the underworld and is reborn after Ragnarök. Óðinn was said to have put his golden arm ring Draupnir onto Balder’s funeral pyre, which also could be interpreted as a solar symbol representing the descent of the sun into the underworld. According to Snorri, Balder’s faithful wife Nanna died of grief and was also laid on the pyre before it was burned and cast out to sea. In this ritual, Balder is honored as a deity that embodies the life-force of the sun which “dies” at the beginning of winter and is reborn with the coming of summer.
Hail to Balder, beloved son of Óðinn and Frigg, boldest in battle. Though your light has descended into the underworld, we await your return after the darkness of fimbulvetr has left the earth. Bless us with your strength this Yule, knowing that every time of darkness must come to an end.
Hail to Nanna, Balder’s faithful consort, lady of powerful love. May your example teach me loyalty for my loved ones, through thick and through thin.
According to Snorri Sturluson, Balder was killed by a dart of mistletoe which Loki tricked Balder’s blind brother Höðr into throwing at him. It was the only thing in creation which had not been asked to swear an oath never to harm Balder. According to Saxo Grammaticus, Balder was killed by a sword named Mistlteinn by his foe Hotherus, who was a human hero. In either case, mistletoe is a plant associated with Balder, as well as being a plant that is thought to have solar associations.Tonight, light candles in your house in honor of Balder and Nanna, petitioning them to fill your home with light and hope. Bless springs of mistletoe with prayers of happiness and protection for the home, and decorate them with ribbons, glitter, whatever strikes your fancy. Hang the mistletoe in your home to ward away ill-wishing spirits and bring good luck.
Dec 26th – Kári and his kin
Tonight is in honor of Kári: a giant of the wind who is the brother of Ægir the sea god and Logi, the wildfire. Some modern Heathens regard Kári as the personification of the North Wind specifically, as his children and descendants all seem to be wintery in nature. Kári is the father of a son named Frosti (“frost”) in Orkneyinga saga, and a son named Jökul (“glacier”) in Hversu Noregr byggdist. This son is, in turn, the father of Snær (“snow”), who is the father of Þorri (Þorri being the name of a “father winter” type figure for which the Icelandic winter holiday Þorrablót is named), and three daughters named Mjöl (“powdered snow”), Drífa (“snowfall”), and Fön (“snowdrift”).
Hail Kári, brother of sea and fire, mighty keeper of the North wind. Honor to you and your descendants, who fill the world with their frozen beauty. Your people were feared and admired by the ancestors, back when they lived in a life and death dance with winter. Tonight I honor you and pray for peace and balance between our people. May I never forget the respect that ice and snow deserve.
Tonight, make a feast of lamb stew and laufabrauð (leaf bread). Making leaf bread is an Icelandic Christmas tradition, and its snowflake-like designs make it an appropriate offering to Kári and the spirits of winter. Making and designing the bread is a fun family activity, and best done in a group. Here is a recipe you can follow. Before having your dinner, leave some of the stew and leaf bread outside as an offering to Kári and his family, maybe adding a little chilled vodka or peppermint schnapps.
Dec 27th – Skaði and Ullr
Today you can honor Skadi and Ullr. Skaði is the frost giantess who became one of the gods after marrying the sea god Njorðr. She is associated with winter and one of her bynames is the “snowshoe goddess”. Ullr is the son of Sif and the stepson of Þórr, who is associated with yew trees, archery, hunting, and skiing. Both gods are associated with the wilds of the forest, and therefore today’s offering is also an offering to the wild birds, animals, and spirits of the woods.
Hail Skaði, lady of the show shoes, giantess of the winter, wild woman of the forest. You are the shadow that glides silently through the trees, hunting like a she-wolf for your prey. May you help my household endure winter’s harshness and may we always have enough resources to survive.
Hail Ullr, great hunter and skier who makes his home in Ydalir. You were an observer of holy oaths, and I pray you will remind my household to observe our oaths to the gods, to the natural world, and to each other.
Today, make edible ornaments out of popcorn and dried fruit, strung on a natural string. Take the ornaments to a tree in your backyard or out in nature. Decorate the tree and leave them as an offering to the animals and nature spirits. Make sure not to leave anything that could be harmful to animals or isn’t biodegradable, as such an offering wouldn’t be well received by Skaði or Ullr.
Dec 28th – Njorðr and Nerthus
Today, honor Njorðr and the Germanic goddess Nerthus. Njorðr is one of the Vanir, associated with the wealth of the ocean and trade overseas. As he is the father of the twins Freyja and Freyr by his unnamed sister, some consider the mysterious German goddess Nerthus to be his female twin/counterpart. According to Tacitus, Nerthus is a goddess of the earth, promoting peace and prosperity wherever her image was taken.
Hail Njorðr, generous Lord of the shipyard, father of Freyr and Freyja. I honor you today and ask that this Yule season and into the new year I would be blessed with your kindness and prosperity.
Hail Nerthus, mother earth, Lady of peace and plenty. May the days ahead be filled with your frith and may the earth care for me as a mother.
For your dinner tonight, make a plum pudding to share with your family. Traditionally, every member of the family should help stir the mixture when the pudding is being made, asking for luck and blessings as they do. Bless a silver coin in the name of Njorðr and the Nerthus, and hide it in the pudding before cooking it (eat carefully!). The person to find the coin receives a blessing of wealth for the next year and should keep it as a good luck charm. Make sure to set aside some pudding as an offering to Njorðr and Nerthus as well.
Dec 29th – Freyja
Today you will honor Freyja in her aspect as seiðkona and seer as you ask for auspices regarding the coming year.
Hail Freyja, lady of love, lady of war, lady of prosperity, lady of magic. We honor you, greatest of the seiðonar, and ask for your blessings and vision as we begin our journey into a new year.
Tonight, call upon Freyja to aid you in divination for the New Year. In Germany on new years eve, some families divine for their fortune by using Bleigiessen (lead pouring). Small bits of led or tin are melted and then dropped into water. The form created by the metal is examined to determine the future. If you are unable to find a Bleigiessen kit, candles can also be used, pouring candle wax into water and then interpreting shapes in the wax. Here is a resource to learn more about Bleigiessen and a list of interpretations for different shapes. Make sure to give an offering to Freyja to thank her for her assistance. I find that she is fond of champagne, strawberries, chocolate, amber incense, and flowers.
Dec 30th – Iðunn and Bragi
Today honor Iðunn and her husband Bragi by making wassail and will singing for the fertility of a fruit tree and for good luck in the coming year.
Hail Iðunn, Lady of devotion which is the immortality of the gods. I remember you and your golden apples today, and pray to you for hope and renewal.
Hail Bragi, greatest of poets. May my voice and singing honor you today as I pray for the new year’s bounty. May you empower my voice to speak words of joy and blessing in the new year and the years to come.
The word Wassail is ultimately derived from the Anglo-Saxon greeting wes þú hál meaning “be you hale”. It’s a hot mulled drink that was traditionally drunk on 12th night, but was also drank throughout the 12 days of Yule in England. The ritual of Wassailing was held in order to pray for a good apple harvest, in which the town would encircle the largest apple tree, sing a traditional song, and place pieces of toast soaked in wassail in the branches for the birds (and the spirits). Today, make wassail in honor of Iðunn. If you have a fruit bearing tree at your home, you can wassail your own tree and pray for it’s fruitfulness in the next year. If you don’t own a fruit bearing tree, you can either find such a tree in a park or in the wild, or find a friend who would like their tree to be wassailed. Offer the tree and the spirits (and the birds!) pieces of toast dipped in wassail, left in the tree’s branches. Here is a traditional wassailing song you can sing:
Old apple tree we wassail thee
and hope that thou shalt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
come apples another year
for to bloom well and to bear well
So merry let us be
let every man take off his hat
and shout out to the old apple tree
Three cheers for the apple tree: hip hip hooray!
Dec 31st – 12th Night: Þórr and Sif
Tonight you will be honoring Þórr and Sif, as well as blessing your house for protection and driving out the last of the wandering Yule spirits who are still between the worlds. It was traditional to end the Yule festivities by “chasing the Yule out”.
Hail Þórr, red-bearded guardian of Midgarðr, who drives away all wights of ill will. As the Yule season ends, drive away any lingering malicious spirits with your hammer, and clear the way for a prosperous and blessed new year.
Hail Sif, lady of harvest. May your blessing be upon the seeds that I plant with the coming of the new year, so that it may be happy, prosperous, and productive.
Today, spiritually and physically cleanse your house. One way to accomplish this is to burn herbs which were traditionally associated with driving away evil energies (namely Mugwort and Juniper in the northern traditions) and fumigate the house, starting from the back of the house and working your way to the front and out the front door. Fire and iron were also believed to drive away malicious spirits, and one could carry fire or iron through the house with prayers for Þórr’s aid. Take the ashes you saved from your Yule log and sprinkle them across the doorways for protection.
When midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, banging pots and pans and basically creating a cacophony was a traditional way to drive away the last of the lingering spirits of Yule, who could cause trouble in the coming year if they didn’t return to their proper place. You might consider singing a loud, rowdy song for Þórr at midnight, assuring a fresh start in the household. “Thor Bashes Etins” by Diana Paxson is a possible choice, accompanied by a loud “stomp stomp” after each refrain.